Muruch’s Top 25 Albums of 2011

This year’s top album list pretty much assembled itself throughout the year. The top 4 in particular are albums I expect to continue to listening to over and over for years to come. Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and, in some cases, download mp3s…

Muruch’s Top 25 Albums of 2011

25. Bell X1: Bloodless Coup

…turns the band’s signature blend electro-pop and rock up a notch

Buy @ Amazon

Hey Anna Lena by Bell X1

24. The Good Natured: Skeleton

…combine catchy electro-pop with airy dream-pop….What sets The Good Natured’s songs apart is the occasional splash of exotic strings or thunderous, syncopated beats. I’m enjoying this album immensely.

Buy @ Amazon

23. Shona Foster: The Moon & You

…moody piano melodies with subtle instrumental and vocal flourishes

Buy @ Amazon

Shona Foster – The Moon & You (Sampler) uploaded by Beach Hut Records

22. Mediaeval Baebes: Illumination

…churns the all-female vocal ensemble’s signature Gothic choir sound with even more exotic instrumentation, faster tempos and fiercer wails….brimming with dark drama, intoxicating rhythms and haunting choral harmonies

Buy @ Amazon

21. The Decemberists: The King is Dead

…From the opening blast of harmonica through the finale, The Decemberists have woven layers of delicate instrumentation and poetic lyrics into even the most buoyant and infectious song on this album.

Buy @ Amazon

20. Driftwood Fire: How to Untangle a Heartache

…truly a delight…airy pop-folk songs…”Appalachian Hills” is the album’s biggest stunner. The haunting folk ballad explores the beautiful landscape and horrific racism in the Shenandoah valley during and after the Civil War.

Buy @ Amazon

19. Zola Jesus: Conatus

…dark and entrancing pop songs…slinky beats, a chilling trill of piano and Zola’s haunting multi-layered howls make “Vessel” absolutely hypnotic.

Buy @ Amazon

18. Lykke Li: Wounded Rhymes

…Quirky, moody, syncopatedly rhythmic, femme electro-pop and indie-rock

Buy @ Amazon

Youth Knows No Pain by LykkeLi

Unrequited Love by LykkeLi

17. Patrick Wolf: Lupercalia

…marries the electro-pop of his recent releases with the eccentric troubadour style of his early albums, then takes things a step beyond with classical strings, big brass and a newfound lyrical optimism.

Buy @ Amazon

16. Matraca Berg: The Dreaming Fields

…the music on this album is exquisite and the songs examine deeper, darker themes than are typically found in the modern country-pop era

Buy @ Amazon

15. The Civil Wars: Barton Hollow

…a gorgeous, intimate blend of pretty pop melodies and sparsely atmospheric folk with an occassional punch of rowdy country-blues.

Buy @ Amazon

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow (mp3)*

14. Company of Thieves: Running from a Gamble

…Lead singer Genevieve Schatz’ voice is distinctively strong and pretty, and the band’s pop-rock songs are far more catchy and lyrically substantial than anything on the radio…one of those albums I like more with each listen.

Buy @ Amazon

Company of Thieves – Modern Waste (mp3)*

13. Zaz

…The poor kid must be sick of the comparisons, but what else can I say here? This little gem of an album sounds like Edith Piaf singing modern, slightly quirky, jazz and pop tunes. I adore it…There really are no weak tracks on the album, the intricacies and charm of the arrangments are a perfect match for Zaz’ superb and distinctive voice.

Buy @ Amazon

12. Imelda May: Mayhem

…adds just enough modern rock noise to Imelda’s signature growling rockabilly sound to make it interesting without losing the retro style that makes her music so charming.

Buy @ Amazon

11. Sarah Slean: Land and Sea

…grand in scope and beautifully complex, yet one of the most irresistibly accessible collections I’ve ever heard. This magnificent new song cycle finds Sarah taking pop, folk, rock and classical to places they’ve never been before.

Buy @ Amazon

Sarah Slean – Amen by muruch

10. Flogging Molly: Speed of Darkness

…more of a American rock musical sound than the seminal Celtic punk band’s previous efforts…a lyrically brilliant and sonically solid effort inspired by the U.S. economic collapse – particularly its harsh effect on Detroit’s factory workers.

Buy @ Amazon

9. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: Scandalous

…gives these brilliant musicians some new opportunities to show off their substantial skills…”You Been Lyin’” is the best, most exciting collaboration any album ever had. The quaking duet with “Dallas gospel funk band” The Relatives sounds like The Staples Singers and George Clinton jamming with The Darkness.

Buy @ Amazon

8. Lia Ices: Grown Unknown

…The album’s brilliance lies in Lia’s unusual use of instrumental embellishments to punch up her otherwise gentle melodies…Lia’s beautiful voice makes even the most basic ballad absolutely stunning.

Buy @ Amazon

Lia Ices – Daphne (mp3)*
Lia Ices – Grown Unknown (mp3)*

7. Eva Cassidy: Simply Eva

…previously unreleased material by the late, great Eva Cassidy…composed entirely of acoustic versions of Eva’s best known recordings. Accompanied only by the soft strum of her guitar, Eva’s extraordinary voice is beautifully displayed in this exquisite collection.

Buy @ Amazon

6. Tori Amos: Night of the Hunters

…One of the more impressive releases of 2011 so far, Night of the Hunters was an ambitious undertaking for Tori Amos and one that, despite its weaknesses, can be called a success. It’s also a definite step in the right direction for the songstress and has won my loyalty back after a decade of disillusionment.

Buy Night of the Hunters @ Amazon

and

Tori Amos: Sin Palabras (Night of the Hunters Instrumental)

…Sin Palabras has all of the strengths of Night Of Hunters, yet none of the weaknesses…gorgeous instrumental version illuminates all of the intricacies and nuances of the arrangements. The brilliance of Tori’s piano playing, as well as that of her accompanying orchestra musicians, is put on full display.

Buy Sin Palabras @ Amazon (only $4.99!)

5. Florence + the Machine: Ceremonials

…has almost Seraphic reverence to its bombast. And Florence Welch’s unearthly wails remain unparalleled and mesmeric.

Buy @ Amazon

4. Heather Nova: 300 Days at Sea

…Heather’s unusually gorgeous voice has always been the driving force in her songs, but her intricate layering of high energy pop-rock instrumentation with haunting folk melodies continues to put her music into a category of its own.

Buy @ Amazon

3. Alexis Marceaux: Orange Moon

…a brassed up brand of eerie indie-rock, melodic pop, delicate folk and the lightest hint of Zydeco…From her first wail in the mesmeric, churning, chill-producing opener, “Leila and the Orange Moon,” I knew I would love this album.

Buy @ Amazon

Orange Moon – Sneak Hear by AlexisMarceaux

2. The Sweetback Sisters: Lookin’ for a Fight

…a delightful nod to vintage Western swing, honky tonk and classic Nashville country…the whole album is a toe tappin’, hip shakin’ wonder. I expect it to be on my best of the year list come December.

Buy @ Amazon

1. Sonya Cotton: It is so

…I don’t recall ever having been so profoundly moved by an album. The lyrics read like classic poetry, full of beautiful, nature-evoking imagery and immense sorrow…Sonya’s broken heart is deeply embedded in the marrow of this spectacular album, as her personal loss intertwines with metaphors depicting the loss of natural habitat and sanctuary for animals in the wild. Such personal and universal themes coupled with lush, intricate arrangements must surely destine It is so to become a folk classic.

Buy @ Sonya’s Site

*all mp3s & streams uploaded by & posted w/ permission of artists, labels and/or their PR reps

Flogging Molly: Live at The Music Box, L.A., 6/6/11

Flogging Molly is my (Vic) favorite band, so I’m very jealous that Muruch’s L.A. reviewer Laura Foxworthy had the privilege of seeing them perform live at The Music Box (at The Henry Fonda Theater, a 1920s movie house converted into a music venue) on June 6th. Laura’s review of the concert follows…

There are days when the trappings of adulthood – routine and responsibilities, bills and deadlines – weigh me down and make me feel older than my years. Monday was one of those days. Yet there are also nights when the music is so loud and exhilarating, I find myself spinning around until I’m dizzy, feeling like a teenager again. Monday night was one of those nights.

Thrust up in the front pit of The Music Box, surrounded by sweat and singing and so many people, I found myself losing some of the baggage that comes with age and exhaustion, at least for a few hours, all thanks to Flogging Molly.

Oh my, what a difference a night makes.

Me and the crowd at The Music Box: sometimes we swayed, sometimes we screamed, and sometimes we became one united human entity. Every song, without exception, was a sing-a-long and every song had us moving.

The venue, an over-sized box of music (hence the title), felt more like an Irish pub than a concert hall. The smell of beer mingled with sweat as Irish-American band Flogging Molly called for us to drink up and scream out. Dave King’s command to “get your f$%*ing dancing shoes on!” sent shoes flying into the air.

The title track from Flogging Molly’s newly released album, Speed of Darkness, was the definite highlight of the night. My favorite moment was when the violinist and mandolin players rocked out like members of 1970′s-era Led Zeppelin or AC/DC. A mandolin player doing a guitar-solo type windmill is quite a sight to behold.

“The Seven Deadly Sins” was another crowd pleaser, especially when we were all invited to put our hands in the air and clap along. The floor vibrated so hard it felt like one of those infamous California earthquakes had hit and started the earth a-shaking. I found myself jumping up and down, shouting at the top of my lungs, my hair whipping around my face.

All the exhaustion of the day melted into a distant memory – I was an Irish, by way of Los Angeles, Pirate now!

Flogging Molly – Don’t Shut ‘Em Down (YouTube Video Link)

Muruch Album Review

Buy Album @ Amazon

Flogging Molly

Flogging Molly Official Site

Flogging Molly: Speed of Darkness

Flogging Molly‘s new album, Speed of Darkness, will be released on May 31st via their own record label, Borstal Beat Records. The new album has more of a American rock musical sound than the seminal Celtic punk band’s previous efforts, and subsequently hasn’t quite captured my affection as intensely as when I first heard Swagger and Drunken Lullabies. It is, however, a lyrically brilliant and sonically solid effort inspired by the U.S. economic collapse – particularly its harsh effect on Detroit’s factory workers.


from the town of Detroit where my job is secure, yeah
secure in the fact that it’s gone for good, yeah

Speed of Darkness‘s opening title track is a quintessential Flogging Molly song reminiscent of “Devil’s Dance Floor” with its intoxicating whirlwind of traditional Irish instrumentation and pure punk rock snarl.

“Revolution” and “Don’t Shut ‘Em Down” are more Green Day than Flogging Molly with a slick pop-rock polish over the arrangements.

The stand out track “The Power’s Out” is a much more successful attempt at a Broadway-worthy rock anthem livened up with the band’s trademark Irish flare, striking lyrics decrying the loss of jobs after years of faithful service and one final explosive wail from King.

And if the band is really trying to turn Speed of Darkness into the next American Idiot musical, “The Cradle of Human Kind” is the song to do it. King’s stellar vocal performance has shades of Freddie Mercury greatness.

“The Heart of the Sea” incorporates a lurching sea chantey melody into a catchy pop number, anchored by King’s bluesy growl.

“So Sail On” and “Present State of Grace” are softer acoustic fare, while “Saints & Sinners” is another high energy rock track.

“Oliver Boy (All of Our Boys)” is an intense political rant with the rousing shout, “where there’s blood, there’s death and glory.

“A Prayer For Me In Silence” is a lovely duet with fiddler Bridget Regan, a Detroit native and King’s wife.

The finale “Rise Up” sways between the lilting traditional Irish folk past and the modern Celtic punk movement.

As I first posted in January,” you can download a free, legal mp3 of “Don’t Shut ‘Em Down” by entering your email address into the widget below…

Flogging Molly – Don’t Shut ‘Em Down (YouTube Video Link)

BUY @ AMAZON

Flogging Molly

Flogging Molly Official Site

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Albums

In addition to my usual year end lists, I’ve also compiled Best of the Decade lists. Following are my favorite albums that were released between 2000-2009…

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Albums

25. Muse: The Resistance

This is one of those albums that has classic potential, and I expect to move its way up the list as the years go by. A quote from my review: “Integrating classical and opera music into their theatrical electro-rock sound, Muse have created one of the most exciting song cycles I’ve ever heard.”

Buy @ Amazon

24. Gaba Kulka: Hat, Rabbit

It was difficult to narrow how Gaba’s releases to just one, but I think her latest is her strongest to date. As I said when I named it #4 on my Top Albums list, it is “probably the most unusual and creative album” of 2009.

Buy @ Amazon

Buy @ Artist’s Site

23. Soundtrack: Once

The soundtrack to the Irish independent film Once features The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. I said in my 2007 review that Hansard’s “lyrics are deeply poetic, his music is heart-wrenchingly lovely, and his beautifully raw voice conveys emotion as if the man were literally ripping his own chest open as he sings.”

Buy @ Amazon

22. Antony & The Johnsons: Antony & The Johnsons

Instead of a best of 2005 list, I deemed it The Year of the Bird and that post says everything about how Antony’s music made me feel when I first heard it. While I Am A Bird Now was their more popular release, I’ve always favored their self-titled 2000 album.

Buy @ Amazon

21. Pina: Quick Look

Pina sadly remains my best kept secret. I discovered her in the early aughts when a French pal shared mp3s of “I Loved the Way” and “Bring Me a Biscuit.” I also love Pina’s 2005 release Guess You Got It, but the rougher edges of Quick Look‘s production fit better with her “Gothic folk” style.

Buy @ Amazon

20. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Rattlin’ Bones

My 2008 review summed it up: “The flawless beauty of this album is almost beyond my comprehension.

Buy @ Amazon

19. Hem: Funnel Cloud

I like this album even more now than when I called it a “nearly perfect album” in my 2007 review.

Buy @ Amazon

18. Damien Dempsey: To Hell or Barbados

As I stated in my 2007 review, the album is a “genre-hop through folk, rock, electronica, and reggae…but the genre gymnastics still take a back seat to the stunning quality of Dempsey’s voice.”

Buy @ Amazon

17. Anais Mitchell: The Brightness

My 2007 review said: “Like the greatest of classic literature, the compositions on The Brightness are the kind that softly seep through your skin and slowly make their way into your heart and mind before exploding in dazzling display of amazement.”

Buy @ Amazon

14. Xavier Rudd: Dark Shades of Blue

Xavier has quickly become my favorite male artist in recent years, and as I said in my 2008 review: “the astounding quality of his songs make me wonder if future generations might consider Xavier Rudd to be the greatest artist of this era.”

Buy @ Amazon

15. Mavis Staples: Never Turn Back

I’m almost ashamed not to put this at #1, because in many ways this is the greatest album of the past two or three decades. I simply don’t listen to it often as the albums listed below. I suppose this is because the weighty subject matter requires a certain mood. But as I said when I reviewed it two years ago: “We’ll Never Turn Back is what music should be. Gut-wrenching blues, earth shaking beats, hip swaying rhythms, deeply moving lyrics, and a rich voice that defies description.

Buy @ Amazon

14. Luminescent Orchestrii: Too Hot to Sleep

I deemed 2005 “the year of the bird,” but that’s only because I didn’t hear Luminescent Orchestrii until 2007 when I said: “there’s a definite connection between their frenzied, violent approach to orchestral instruments and the punk cabaret of The Dresden Dolls, but neither description fully captures their unique and unearthly sound.

Buy @ Amazon

13. Flogging Molly: Swagger

This album ushered in the Celtic Punk craze of the decade. There’s no such thing as a bad Flogging Molly album, but this one was definitely their best.

Buy @ Amazon

12. Vienna Teng: Inland Territory

In my review I called Inland Territory a grand “display of Vienna Teng’s brilliance, grace, and talent.” I continue to fall more and more in love with this album with each listen.

Buy @ Amazon

11. Kurt Vonnegut & Dave Soldier: Ice-9 Ballads

My #1 album of 2009. As I said in my review: “I can’t imagine a more perfect score for my favorite novel of all time.”

Buy @ Amazon

10. Mary Timony: Mountains

I had never heard of former Helium singer Mary Timony until a friend sent me this album shortly after its 2000 release. Mary’s unusual mix of Medieval folk, chamber pop, and indie-rock was unlike anything I’d heard before, and it remains one of the most strangely beautiful recordings I’ve ever heard.

Buy @ Amazon

9. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band: The Whole Fam Damnily

My #1 album of 2008. In my review, I called it an “inebriating concoction of swamp stomp and backwoods pluck.” But in subsequent listens I’ve found myself drawn more to The Rev’s lyrics, which accurately capture the perils of modern rural life.

Buy @ Amazon

8. Allison Crowe: Live at Wood Hall

Oh that voice! Still gives me chills. I’ve posted about Allison Crowe so many times over the years that I consider her Muruch’s musical mascot. As I said in my 2007 review: “there’s really no way to convey through mere words how much the music on Allison Crowe’s Live At Wood Hall moves me” Forget Susan Boyle, Allison sang the definitive cover of “I Dreamed a Dream.” (mp3)*

Buy @ Amazon

7. Soundtrack: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling

I always call it the “Buffy Musical” rather than its proper title Once More With Feeling.” Years before Dr. Horrible, Joss Whedon wrote a hilarious, poignant, and very catchy musical for an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I don’t know how well the songs translate if you never watched the Buffy series, but I still love singing along to the soundtrack. The album features vocals by actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Allison Hannigan, Michelle Trachtenberg, Nicholas Brendon, James Marsters, and Anthony Stewart Head. This is an example of why file sharing works – I and several friends burned our own soundtracks from mp3s recorded directly from the televised episode long before the soundtrack was released, yet we all purchased the official album once it became available.

Buy @ Amazon

6. Xavier Rudd: White Moth

I could easily include all of Xavier Rudd’s albums on this list, but I tried to limit myself to just two. My 2008 review said: “Rudd deems the album his “proudest work” and it’s easy to understand why.” But it’s really only been with repeated listens over the past two years that I’ve grown to love and truly appreciate its magnificence. And nothing speaks to the greatness of an album like having a panic attack when you think you’ve lost it and knowing you must replace it immediately. Fortunately, I found my copy!

Buy @ Amazon

5. Damien Rice: O

Unlike most Americans, I heard and fell in love with O when it was originally released in Ireland in 2001. My clothbound first edition of the album is a collector’s item now, but I wouldn’t part with it for anything. Rice seems to have faced some post-hype backlash in recent years, but that doesn’t erase the brilliance of this album. Most remember it for Lisa Hannigan’s delicate harmonies, but Rice’s use of strings and opera music were also very unique at the time. And the album as a whole has withstood changing trends in music over the years.

Buy @ Amazon

4. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine

This is another example of why file sharing can have a positive effect on album sales. Remember “Free Fiona”? If you don’t, Fiona recorded a version of this album with producer Jon Brion and her label initially refused to release it. Mp3s of the demos were leaked online, the fans loved them, and a huge campaign called “Free Fiona” was launched in hopes of getting the album released. It worked, though Fiona re-recorded most of the album for the official release. I was one of many who purchased the album even though I had the demo mp3s. My 2005 review also shifted the focus of this site from simply sharing music to encouraging people to purchase albums. It has since become one of my favorite albums ever, and I hope Fiona decides to grace us with another release in the near future.

Buy @ Amazon

3. Soundtrack: Hedwig & The Angry Inch

Among the 2000-04 archives of this site that have been lost were my reviewes of the movie Hedwig & The Angry Inch (which I saw in a double bill with The Anniversary Party at a local film festival) and its soundtrack. Whether or not you’re familiar with John Cameron Mitchell’s awesome musical about a German transgender rocker, the soundtrack is one of the best rock albums of all time. There are thunderous punk rock numbers like “Angry Inch” and heart-melting ballads like “Origin of Love.” Why Mitchell continues to act instead of record music is a mystery to me.

Buy @ Amazon

2. Old Crow Medicine Show: Big Iron World

In my November, 2006 review, I said “I don’t believe I’ve ever said this about an album before, but I think Old Crow Medicine Show’s Big Iron World is just about perfect.” I stand by that statement. I’ve played this album more than any other released in the past three years, and only one band could keep it from the number 1 spot…

Buy @ Amazon

1. The Dresden Dolls: The Dresden Dolls

Anyone who knows me or has been a longtime reader of this site knows that The Dresden Dolls are/were my favorite band. My posts about their self-titled debut (and the live A Is For Accident album that preceded it) were also lost with early archives of this site, but I’ve raved every other Dresden Dolls release since then. After “Over the Rainbow”, The Dresden Doll’s “Girl Anachronism” is my favorite song and this is possibly my all-time favorite album. Amanda Palmer proves without a doubt that – in the right hands – the piano is the most punk rock of all instruments.

Buy @ Amazon

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist

Flogging Molly: Float

Flogging Molly is back with Float. The thing I love most about the Irish punk band’s music is that Flogging Molly can rock and growl with the best of the Celtic Punks, yet they don’t sacrifice substance or melody in order to do so. The structure and components of their songs are hearty enough that they would still be solid even if stripped of all the bluster and noise. Float is no exception, though perhaps not quite as captivating as previous efforts. There’s no true stunner here, no “Devil’s Dance Floor” or “Another Bag or Bricks” or even “Light Of A Fading Star”. Rather, the new tunes tend to run together in a glorious and exciting riot of sound.

“Requiem For A Dying Song” is a rousing hyperactive start, “(No More) Paddy’s Lament” keeps the fast tempo but gives it a dark edge. “You Won’t Make A Fool Out Of Me” and “The Lightning Storm” kick up the dust again in a whirlwind of shouts and tempestuous orchestration. Many of the other tracks – the most notable being “Man With No Country” – sustain the cacophonous breakneck pace.

There are a few brief reprieves amidst the noise in the softer and more serious tone of “Float” and “Us Of Lesser Gods”, both of which emphasize the prettiness of the stringed instruments and allow the melodic grit of Dave King’s voice to shine.

Buy the CD or Mp3s